A brightly illuminated chamber with huge, transparent windows may be found just a few steps inside the inconspicuous entrance door at Science Corp. in Alameda, California. Three surgeons in white coats and white gloves hover over a New Zealand white rabbit spread out on an ocean-blue tablecloth on a late November afternoon.
The rabbit, named Leela after the one-eyed protagonist of Futurama, had an injection placed in the white of her eye about a month before. Max Hodak, CEO of Science Corp., stands in jeans and a black sweatshirt just outside the operating room, a laptop tucked under his arm. A tiny gadget, about the size of a cent, is shown in the presentation on his screen, connected to a slender tail of wiring.
According to CNET, he believes this technology can give sight back to the blind. A microLED display measuring just 2mm on a side may not look like much, but that’s because they contain an entire electronic metropolis the size of that.
The Science Eye is the name of the prosthesis he’s demonstrating; once it has been shown to be safe and effective, it will be implanted on top of and within the eyeballs of human patients with disorders that cause the death of the eye’s light-sensing cells.
The goal is to stimulate other cells in the eye to pick up on and interpret light signals. The device was introduced on November 21 of last year, when the biotech came out of stealth mode.
Despite Hodak’s busy morning, the Science building seemed optimistic. Science Corp. has released its first scientific publication on bioRxiv, a repository for preprint scientific articles, in preparation for future vision restoration experiments.
Science Eye and the Number of Pixels
Hodak shows me photographs on his laptop as we stand outside the operating room, highlighting the shape of the Science Eye and the number of pixels the team has crammed into the device’s wafer-thin microLED.
He claims that the 16,000-pixel resolution is around “eight times better than an iPhone 13.” He provides a quick example of the “vision” that a person with a Science Eye would have. A street scene with a person raising their arms is recreated as red pixels twirl across the screen.
FlexLED, Science’s name for the microLED gadget, is just one part of the Science Eye. The Science team must first demonstrate that it can transport a gene to a specific region of the eye and trigger electrical signals in the brain regions involved in controlling sight before it can restore even this level of vision to patients. Leela is necessary for this purpose.
Behind us, while Hodak and co-founder Alan Mardinly describe the procedure to me, they delicately extract Leela’s eyeball. Your eyes and brain are engaged in a frenetic dance as you read this article, energized by a blizzard of light and electrical signals. The sense of sight is the result of this intricate ballet, perfected through millions of years of evolution.
The retina is a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye that contains millions of light-sensitive cells called photoreceptors, which are stimulated when light from your screen is focused onto it. Cone- and rod-shaped cells, which contain chemicals called opsins, can use light to generate an electrical signal.